Twice in successive Lok Sabha and Assembly rounds, Delhi has voted with instructive schizophrenia, endorsing Narendra Modi unreservedly at the Centre, effusively rejecting him in favour of Arvind Kejriwal for the state.
The number of those who vote bigamously depending on the election must remain astoundingly high.
Tuesday’s resounding verdict for the AAP suggests that while Modi remains unchallenged by party or person nationally, a credible regional dare to him can hold ground. And handsomely, as Kejriwal’s second sweep of Delhi demonstrates. Continue reading “A ‘prayog’ against polarisation”→
The good news for Narendra Modi just refuses to ebb, it oozes like the viscous sweetness of summer fruit. May 23 was breathtaking beyond expectation, a second-term endorsement that rendered the parliamentary polls almost presidential. What has followed that spectacular turn at the ballot is a high-calorie spectacle of sheer and unbelievable delight for the prime minister. It has come to be revealed that Modi had not merely won an election, he had also acquired a loyal and obliging Opposition, an Opposition keen to give the truth to his every prognosis and prophecy.
Mahamilavat, Modi called the effort to build collective electoral fronts against him. And so it has turned out. A bunch of opportunists with no objective or narrative other than to pull him out of office, he called them. And so it has turned out. Outmoded dynasts deluded on priority and entitlement to power, he repeatedly railed. And so it has turned out. The Opposition is daily mimicking what Modi called it out to be.
The boldest bid this summer to stymie Modi’s run on a second term — the unlikely tie-up of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Mahagathbandhan, so called — has swiftly collapsed under the burdens of defeat, and become quite what Modi christened it:
‘Thugbandhan’. Bua (Mayawati) and bhanja (Akhilesh Yadav) have terminated what they briefly attempted to pitch as a heart-warming kinship and returned to default practices — blame-gaming, vituperation, renewed oaths of separation. If power isn’t the prize, what are we on stage for together? It’s curtains. Mayawati has solemnly declared, yet again, she’ll go it alone. Akhilesh, never the one to display open disregard for Buaji’s wishes, has gone off to London. It’s a summer destination he usually makes it to; the dates happen to coincide with his birthday.
In neighbouring Bihar, the turn has been slightly more bizarre. It just happens that Tejashwi Yadav, anointed scion of Lalu Prasad and lead act of the challenge to the National Democratic Alliance, was so disinterested in helming the show that he did not stay back in Patna even to cast his ballot. He saw through the campaign, but felt so weary of chopper-stopping at the end of it, so requiring of things that B-towns like Patna cannot provide, that he begged off. He returned briefly to survey the size of wounds he must now lick — it was all wound for his Rashtriya Janata Dal scored a first-time duck — and vanished again. Last heard, he was still promising a return via social media missives fired from undisclosed locales. One party elder issued a stupefying response to questions on where Tejashwi had vanished. ‘You voted Modi and you want to seek out Tejashwi?’ There. No review of what went wrong where or how, no assurance to the ranks that this coma could be temporary and critical care is on the way. Bihar goes to the polls next year; on the basis of what happened in the Lok Sabha polls, Tejashwi’s party tallied a little more than a dozen seats in the 243-member House. His legislators cannot be blamed for wondering if their future is secure under the Tejashwi umbrella, wherever it is that it currently lies pitched.
There’s a third son, the biggest, the eldest of them; he can be no stranger to the other two, they’ve all played power-power together at different times, though it can be doubted that they are able to look back on their tandems with any cheer. Rahul Gandhi, Congress president-in-resignation, is most certainly not in the mood. Not even the mandatory summertime jaunt to England, or thereabouts, has helped. He’s been playing Quits and not doing terribly well even at this from the looks of it. It has been a month since he put in his papers, but it would appear that his letter did not have a receiver’s stamp and signature. Might actually be worth a ponder, while the shenanigan drags on, who Congress presidents resign to. And who do Congresspeople resign to when the Congress president is in extended resignation mode? That too is a question worth a ponder because over the past couple of weeks a fair few resignations, or offers of resignation, lie piled at the door of the would-be former Congress president. This at a time when positions to resign from in the Congress are getting fewer and fewer.
Has any sense emanated from the Congress on what it thinks went so terribly wrong? On why nothing of what the leadership did seemed to resonate with the electorate? Any diagnosis of this debacle which, in real terms, is far worse than how the Congress fared in 2014? No. At least not yet.
What has emanated in dribs and drabs are such things: Priyanka Gandhi, party general- secretary in charge of east UP, made one trip to the truncated family borough in the vicinity of Rae Bareli-Amethi and unleashed an accusatory finger at party workers. Inspired leaks set the blame for bloated pre-poll Congress ambitions on Praveen Chakravarty, head of the party’s data cell. The shadow boxing between old courtiers and the new set is still playing out. The one-upmanship between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot has been resumed in Rajasthan. Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu press on with their theatre. There are uneasy murmurs rising from the party in Maharashtra. The coalition government in Karnataka is tottering on the brink. Another set of elections looms. Nobody seems to be able to arrange a Rajya Sabha renewal for Manmohan Singh. Who’s minding the floor? Sonia Gandhi took on the job of chairing the Congress parliamentary party, but for some reason, Rahul Gandhi did not want to move up the benches and shoulder the responsibility of party leader in the Lok Sabha. Suddenly, he wants to be party MP from Wayanad, no more. And the party is lapsed into its all-too-familiar posture, prostrated at his retreating feet. Whereas it should have been at the barricades, fighting the battles it must fight. But then, a house in deep disorder must first fight to set itself right.
Meanwhile, in the five weeks that have gone since May 23, Modi has put in place a new government, appointed a new working president for his party, announced a new, expanded membership drive, re-jigged his Twitter handle and profile picture, reordered and upscaled the office around him, cleared necessary appointments at the top of the bureaucracy, addressed Parliament twice (if not more times), hosted an array of foreign dignitaries, made multiple visits abroad, posed in a Kyrgyz choga and hat, inaugurated a bromance with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, guffawed with Donald Trump, been cold to Pakistan’s Imran Khan, convened meetings of the cabinet and chief ministers, confabulated with current and potential allies, extended governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir, relentlessly assaulted his political adversaries, as if he were facing an election and not just triumphed in one. Last Sunday, he also resumed ‘Mann ki Baat’, his version of the fireside address to the nation. It was about water. The Opposition, if indeed there is one out there, needs it dearly.
Beyond the abject predictability of Varanasi, beyond the limits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, eastern UP begins to resemble the Bihar of 2015: a battle, a girded loin battle, between a juggernaut on the roll and newly aligned armies determined to grind it to a halt. You head towards Ghazipur or Chandauli, you head towards Jaunpur or towards Bhadohi, you head up north towards Gorakhpur, you head towards Mirzapur —- the pattern everywhere is the same: robust rival caste and creed formations locked in an intense smash and grab game.
In the Bihar of 2015, the challenge to the BJP came from the RJD-JDU-Congress combine. In 2014, the BJP had swept Bihar, taking more than 30 of its 40 Lok Sabha seats. But in 2015, bitter rivals Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar joined hands.
The BJP was routed. Here in the districts of UP’s Purvanchal, the SP-BSP alliance has unleashed a resistance whose prowess even the BJP’s election managers acknowledge. “Yahan Varanasi chhod ke kai seats mein fight hai,” a senior BJP leader visiting to oversee the campaign tells The Telegraph, “I am not saying we won’t do well, but yes, we are facing the heat. It is something we will have to work to overcome.”
As you leave Varanasi and enter the rural dustbowl, you’re likely to sense the high Modi decibel falling away and the clamour of a more even contest beginning to make itself heard.
Your hear “Contest hai”; you hear “phansaa hua hai maamla”; you hear “kaante ki takkar”. You don’t often hear what was heard at high pitch in Bihar next door this campaign and even elsewhere in UP, you don’t hear “Modi-Modi”, you don’t hear “Modi hi mudda hain”. You don’t hear the refrain that Modi alone is enough to swing it.
In Mirzapur for instance, Anupriya Patel, Union minister and Apna Dal leader, must rally her own troops and wage her own battles rather than rest easy on the Modi reputation.
“Anupriyaji has the support of her caste base and sections the BJP brings,” says Ratan Patel, an Apna Dal worker in Chunar, about 30 kilometres west of Varanasi, “But the others also have their votes, it’s a strong vote this time because the SP and BSP have combined. The fight will be hard.”
Rather than on Modi, the Patel camp may be keener on other factors at play. Which way, for instance, will the Muslim vote split between the SP-BSP and the Congress. Or whether the Congress’s Lalitesh Tripathi will manage to break the Brahmin vote. Or again, will the SP-BSP nominee, Ram Charitra Nishad (he is the sitting BJP, yes BJP, MP from Machhalishahar, and his switch might tell its own tale) be able to woo the substantive sections of the non-Yadav OBCs? The combinations and permutations are shifting and shuffling, like shards in a kaleidoscope.
Modi remains a factor, undeniably, but not a singular factor that can change fortunes. Neither does he soar above the field as the invincible one.
Often, you’ll hear him being dismissed out of hand. “Modiji kya hain?Dugdugiya madari hain, tamasha karte hain, bheed jutate hain, paanch saal mein aur kya kiye? (What is Modi? He is a street showman, he does tamashas and he gathers crowds, what else has he done in five years?)”
That may sound like a provocative shot fired to fetch a response from the few sheltering from the heat under a huge peepal.
It is past noon, and the Ganga ghat at Chunar lies bleached under the sun. Only young boys and buffaloes have dared the distance to the riverbank. Girija Prasad Yadav, the man who has just spanked the Modi reputation in public, holds his dare and looks around if there’s a response coming.
It does, soon enough, and it is another jibe at Modi. “Arrey madari nahin, Tughlaq hai Modi, roj naya drama-nautanki, kano kuchh, kabhi kuchh. Note bandi kiya, phir bhool gaye kitna bada julum janta pe kiye. Pulwama mein sipahi mare, laash pe naachne lage. Aisa koi pradhan mantri hota hai?” (Modi is like Tughlaq, every day something new. He did demonetisation, then forgot what an atrocity he had committed on people. Soldiers died in Pulwama, he started dancing on their bodies. What sort of Prime Minister is he?)”
This time it is a Nishad, a non-Yadav OBC, who has spoken up. Kirparam Nishad is his name and he runs a small kirana store in the bustee nearby. “2014 mein aaraam se jeete thhe, iss baar yahan woh maamla nahin hai. (The last time Modi had won comfortably, this time it’s not the same.)”
Bihar chief minister and JDU boss Nitish Kumar is under insistent pressure from his domineering ally, the BJP, to drop key commitments from his manifesto and align it closer to the Sangh parivar worldview.
The three issues the BJP wants him to drop relate to Article 370, the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the construction of a Ram mandir in Ayodhya.
Nitish and the JDU have hitherto held a different position from the BJP on all three — they have vowed to protect Article 370, which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and the UCC, which is an article of faith for the Muslim minority; they have also never toed the BJP line on endorsing the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
But hectored by the BJP to go silent on all the three issues, the JDU leadership has been thrown in a quandary: does it submit to the demands of the BJP, or risk their ire in the middle of a critical election?
The JDU manifesto has been drafted by a team comprising party general secretary K.C. Tyagi and national spokesperson Pavan Varma, and makes a mention of all the three issues “in keeping with our traditional secular line of inclusive growth”.
The manifesto was to have been released on April 14, but its unveiling has remained inexplicably withheld. Reliable JDU sources have told The Telegraph that it is the BJP’s last-minute demand on key and critical changes that has kept the release in abeyance.
One of the authors of the stalled manifesto, Tyagi, has in fact been summoned to Patna from Delhi by Nitish on how to deal with the BJP diktat.
The chief minister, the sources indicated, was “not averse” to “going silent” on the three issues but others, including Tyagi, were reluctant to play ball, arguing that it would mean “complete ideological subjugation” to the BJP and the Sangh.
Nitish, and his senior colleagues, have maintained thus far that the JDU has its own ideology, distinct from the BJP’s, and would stick to its “core commitments to secular principles and politics” despite being in alliance with the BJP.
On paper, the JDU avers that any dilution of Article 370 and the UCC, or any commitment to building a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya is violative of “secular principles”.
But now, Nitish suddenly appears a little shaken on those commitments. Mid-campaign, Nitish isn’t quite sure how defying the BJP will impact the future of JDU candidates in the fray. There is, of course, an unspoken dare beneath the demand the BJP is pushing — comply, or else…
Nitish’s allies have already littered the campaign with palpably divisive and anti-minority rants. The BJP’s Begusarai candidate, Giriraj Singh, declared on Wednesday that if Muslims wanted their three yards of burial space, they shall have to say Vande Mataram.
At a rally in Darbhanga on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted, in Nitish’s presence, that those who had a problem saying Vande Mataram deserve to lose their deposits.
Nitish, clearly, is having to quietly and helplessly sit out a campaign by his allies that runs contrary to his “avowed commitment” to secular politics.
The JDU is contesting 17 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats — the same number as the BJP — but it is well aware that the support of the BJP is critical to its success in most, if not all, of those seats.
So here’s Nitish’s dilemma, being played out in the strategy rooms of the Bihar chief minister as this report is written: Should Nitish not agree to comply with the BJP’s demand, his ally will turn cool and the strike rate of JDU victories will suffer. Should he give in, and drop those critical commitments against the wishes of key authors of the manifesto, Nitish will lose even the fig leaf of being “committed to secular politics and minority rights”.
Nitish has made many convenient and contrary choices to suit his political survival and ends in the past. The unveiling of the JDU manifesto, when it does happen, will provide clues to which way he chose to go this time — the way of “conviction” or the way of convenience.
Kashmir is the campaign that New Delhi has lost in key places
Just a few hours before Sameer Bhat, better known as Sameer Tiger, a most wanted Hizbul Mujahideen commander, was killed in a gun battle in Drabgam in South Kashmir this week, he had pushed online a short video of a local youngster being interrogated by him on suspicion of being an informer. Towards the end of the clip, Sameer Tiger pronounces a warning on an army officer that he surely meant for a much larger audience: “(Major) Shukla ko kehna sher ne shikar karna kya chhora, tujhe laga jungle hamara hai? (Tell Major Shukla just because the tiger had stopped hunting, you thought the jungle was yours?)” Major Shukla would take a hit in pursuit of Sameer Tiger soon after, his assault party would hunt Sameer Tiger down, but Tiger’s dire dare rings on: it’s a vicious survivor’s skirmish, Kashmir, and it’s often tough to tell hunter from hunted, one day’s trophy chasers can become another day’s trophies. Continue reading “A Splitting Headache”→